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DVD Shopping Bag: After Earth
A Likable Hero?
By Robert T. Trate
October 29, 2013
After Earth out now on Blu-ray
© Sony Home Entertainment
By this point, I was more curious to see if M. Night Shyamalan would fail again at the box office than be entertained by one of his stories. I skipped The Happening all together and sadly journeyed into Avatar: The Last Air Bender against my better judgement. When I heard that M. Night was teaming up with Will Smith for a Science Fiction picture, my attention piqued. Yet, upon hearing the casting of Smith’s son Jaden, I got back on the apprehensive side. The advantage of writing a DVD column is that after I hear the reviews from both critics and friends, I can say that I’ll wait for it on Blu-ray. Well, that day has now come.
After Earth is a father and son survival story that happens to take place on Earth. However, this is not the Earth we all know. It is a millennium after man’s exodus and the planet has evolved. Mankind has settled in the stars and discovered they are not alone. Creatures known as the URSA are at war with mankind. The story of Kitai (Jaden Smith) and Cypher (Will Smith) Raige takes place during a father/son getaway. Their transport crash lands on the quarantined Earth and Kitai must save both himself and his father.
The story has that great Sci-Fi setting. We are treated to a dazzling world when man has embraced a more organic style of living. Everything from their spaceships to their simple storage compartments have a different feel to them. Fans of Farscape will appreciate the style choice by M. Night Shyamalan and Production Designer Thomas E. Sanders. It really is like nothing that has been on the big screen before. The special effects are fine, but they are obviously special effects. The real world locations of Utah, Arizona, and Costa Rica dazzle, but as soon as giant CGI creatures walk into the shot, the film loses something. As a viewer, I shouldn’t think that the creatures in Star Wars: Attack of the Clones looked better, especially because that was over ten years ago.
With all that being said, why I am talking about production design and special effects? What is it about After Earth that reeks to high heaven? It is not the acting, or the story, or the fact that a real life father and son are playing a father an son. Will Smith is a very likable guy. If there was ever a pure, fun loving entertainer, it would be Will Smith. Whether you prefer him on the Fresh Price of Bel Air, rapping with DJ Jazzy Jeff, or taking on a variety of aliens, Will Smith is fun to watch. In After Earth, the elder Smith is not the lead actor. Jaden Smith carries the story. It is through his eyes that we are asked to choose to participate in the story. I’m sorry, but in what way has Jaden Smith ever entertained anyone?
Jaden Smith has a small list of credits to his name. In both The Pursuit of Happyness and remake of The Day The Earth Stood Still, he was just a little child playing that part. In The Karate Kid, he played an arrogant pre-teen, who was at times a little more Johnny Lawrence than Daniel Larusso. It didn’t help either that he made a hip-hop version of a beloved classic. As we arrive at After Earth, his career looms in that huge shadow of his father. Here, he had the chance to prove himself. The role of Kitai is basically a one man show. This Sci-Fi version of Castaway could have really opened up Jaden Smith to a broader audience. Instead, I found myself just hoping that Jaden was going to save his dad because that was who I really cared about. With each wrong choice Kitai made, I found myself hating the actor more than the character, a thing I should never do for the hero of any tale.
This wasn’t a bomb of a movie in any sense of the word. In fact, the story was pretty good. However, the Sci-Fi part of the story was not necessary. It showed off an interesting take on the future of mankind, but it could have easily transpired during a hiking trip in Canada. The fault doesn’t lay with M. Night and the typical storytelling twists we once admired and now expect. In fact, there are no twists. The whole movie hinged on the audience accepting Jaden Smith as Kitai, a young man with everything to prove. He failed on both accounts.
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